SecuRepairs Experts step up in Washington Right to Repair Hearing

SecuRepairs experts Owen Rubel and Tarah Wheeler testified before the Washington State Senate in support of that state’s Digital Right to Repair bill on January 21.


Technology and cyber security experts appeared to have the ears of Washington State senators as they sounded off in support of proposed digital right to repair bill at a January 21st hearing.

The bill was named “a good small business bill” at the Washington State Senate this week, which saw senators joined by cybersecurity experts in the movement to support independent repair providers.

Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D), who sponsored  the bill, said that small business owners need advocates for bills like these because there are already enough advocates for big corporations.

“Not everyone can work for these big monolithic corporations that are controlling the entire process,” Hasegawa said. “We need to be able to create opportunities for many people to be entrepreneurial about how we’re moving through this digital transition.”

The bill, SB 5799, requires electronics manufacturers that offer repair and maintenance services to provide diagnostic data and software as well as access to replacement parts and tools to owners and independent repair shops. The bill is cosponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D).

Nationwide, 20 states introduced digital right-to-repair bills in 2019, according to The Repair Association. In the face of sustained lobbying from the farm equipment, telecommunications and electronics industries, however, none has passed or even received a vote yet in a state legislature. Advocates expect even more states to bring forward digital right to repair laws in the 2020 legislative season.

Rolfes deemed the issue of digital right to repair a statewide dilemma.

However, Sen. Lisa Wellman (D), committee chair and former Apple employee, questioned why the insurance policies provided by tech companies were insufficient.

Both Rolfes and Hasegawa noted the high costs.

“If you don’t have a six figure salary, it is prohibitive,” said Rolfes.

Sen. Tim Sheldon’s (D) witty remarks aligned device repair to that of bringing your car back to the dealer after you have changed the oil and being refused service due to having touched the car yourself.

SecuRepairs members were present at the hearing. Owen Rubel, a software engineer at The University of Washington, tackled tech corporation concerns of safety.

Rubel compared the ability to make repairs on every day “dangerous“ devices to repairs on smartphones, noting that the average person can repair their refrigerator while risking exposure to Freon.

“All of these devices that we already can repair are extraordinarily dangerous, but that’s not an excuse for repairing these devices,” he said.

The inability to take apart one’s computer or smartphone is a disservice to our children, Rubel stated. While children here in the U.S. are discouraged from taking apart their devices and learning how they work, children in other countries are gaining the upper hand.

“Only children in Taiwan are going to know about computers and how to build them and our children are going to be disadvantaged as a result of that,” Rubel explained.

SecuRepairs member and cybersecurity expert, Tarah Wheeler of New America Foundation, testified alongside Rubel.

Wheeler praised Apple for their products and their “strong and repeated commitment” to data security. However, she stated that their devices were “intended to be used and repaired.”

According to Wheeler, the wrong questions are being asked.

“We should be asking companies to answer questions about data security, not about supply chain components that are easily physically testable and examinable,” she said.

She explained that if simply taking apart an iPhone presented “a serious threat to the safety and security of communications in this country” then there was a much bigger issue at hand.

Referencing her experience in the industry, she explained the importance of employing “people with curious minds who want to know how things work” and offering her support for tech entrepreneurs.

Senator Rolfes assured legislators that she was not suggesting that devices should be made “easy to steal and easy to replicate” but simply suggesting that repair for products be made more accessible to the average consumer.

“We need to be challenging the big technology corporations,” she said. Rolfes added that she was embarrassed that no sort of agreement has been made with corporations to come to a compromise.

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